Though it’s been seven years since Angels & Airwaves last released an album, that time hasn’t been spent idle, especially as far as Tom DeLonge is concerned. And though that time hasn’t been wasted, it also hasn’t been easy for the frontman. In 2015, he parted ways with Blink-182, the band he co-founded in 1992, while 2019 saw him file for divorce from his wife.
It’s not all been negatives, however. 2015 also saw him found To The Stars, a publishing company that later expanded to include DeLonge’s work surrounding science and aerospace, something he’s become increasingly more involved in over the last decade.
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Though it goes without saying that those more negative events have informed Angels & Airwaves’ new album ‘LIFEFORMS’ to a degree, they aren’t the backbone of it. Instead, as one might expect of DeLonge, it’s not that straightforward, interested instead in how we as humans interact, both with each other, as well as the world around us.
“We kind of tend to think that as mankind as life forms, as human beings, that our entire life path is defined by our interactions with each other,” DeLonge explains, our conversations taking little time to get deep. “Until you realize there's other things out there that are interacting with us and guiding humanity for better or worse. Either in certain situations or into certain situations.”
It gets deeper than that too. Angels & Airwaves have always been a band with ambitions bigger than most, creating records whose narratives make up just a small part of the story. ‘LIFEFORMS’ is no exception. Only where previous attempts have felt somewhat arty or to some, even pretentious, this time around is much more accessible, despite the record’s seemingly complex themes.
“We're finally kind of hitting our stride with Monsters Of California, the movie that's coming out, it still continues the themes that the record was starting out, discussing the interactions between all of us, between the people we love, but is much more mainstream, coming of age, adventure, comedy, paranormal, skateboarding, punk rock. It's a full picture of who I am, for better, for worse, you know?” It’s a record that also covers themes DeLonge has openly shied away from previously, with tracks exploring issues such as the racism or gun violence that has become more and more prevalent in the United States in the years between Angels & Airwaves records. Was this a conscious decision on DeLonge’s part?
“I think our country was in such a mess, with Satan as President. And I just fucking couldn't stand by and not say something. I don't usually want to do anything polarising lyrically, like politics and shit, but I couldn't stand back because this was like living through something that's as big of a deal as the JFK assassination. I mean, this is historical shit, I would hate to look back and say I didn't use my platform to stand up for what I believed in.”
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The shift hasn’t just been thematic as far as ‘LIFEFORMS’ is concerned either. Where 2014’s ‘The Dream Walker’ was spacious and synth-heavy, ‘LIFEFORMS’ feels more three dimensional certainly, yet also angrier and angstier, while still harbouring the same youthful sense of optimism that DeLonge has throughout his career.
“I think ‘LIFEFORMS’ for me is me going back and honouring the music that I grew up on. I was very intentional about having songs that were really in the spirit of the bands I grew up loving or the bands that I was in. We have a song called ‘Spellbound’, which is like Depeche Mode, because I’d mow my lawn as a kid listening to Depeche mode. We have a song called ‘Automatic’, it's like The Cure and I used to sit there and play ‘Boys Don't Cry’ over and over again on my guitar.”
It’s not just DeLonge’s early influences that have found their way onto the album. There are echoes of his earlier projects too. “‘Euphoria’ was like a post-hardcore Boxcar Racer, my band that I did with Travis. [And there’s] a song called ‘Time Bomb’ that’s like what would Blink be doing if it was more futuristic, a bit more progressive. For me, I was very much digging into the things that I've done, the things I was inspired by. And I think I kind of was able to achieve something pretty diverse, for me at least.”
Of course, with the band’s new album the reason for our conversation, talk naturally turns to aforementioned To The Stars and the work it’s doing, both artistically and scientifically, and while initially set up to self-publish Angels & Airwaves material, be that books or movies etc, soon became something much grander in scope, and much more encompassing.
“I started To The Stars as a production company for Angels & Airwaves. We wanted to do movies and books and all these different things. We wanted just to be different than every other band out there. Then you're kind of mapping out the themes and the things that you want to do. We got to write these books and we find writers for scripts. We got to go and develop the scripts and you go and make movies”.
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The idea of working with and across different mediums has always been central to Angels & Airwaves, something they’ve discussed and explored since the very beginnings. And though DeLonge may well have come across more than his fair share of naysayers who laughed at his and his band’s ambition, the litany of works tied to the band is nothing short of impressive, and it’s scope, staggering. But how hard was it for DeLonge to link these together?
“Well, it was super easy to do all this. That's why it's only taken me fucking 15 years!” DeLonge jokes. “God damn it. These are hard things to do, but at this point, it's all coming together wonderfully, but it did take a long time. I remember everyone thought I was crazy when I said this shit.
“Do you know how many times people thought I've been crazy? Literally like at least 30, now probably 40 times. ‘You're going to write all these books and make movies? You're crazy! Oh, you quit your band to chase aliens. Shut the fuck up, you're crazy.’”
Despite the serious turn in conversation, DeLonge peppers the conversation with flashes of his trademark humour. Both the sarcastic, and the hilariously puerile (at one point, when asked about which other mediums he’d like to explore, he responded simply with “Adult Films”). There’s both a seriousness and an inquisitiveness about him too, especially when talk turns towards the more unexplained side of his interests.
“I'm not really crazy,” he continues. “I maybe say things a little too early, as I'm trying to figure it out. But the big arc here for me is the way physics and science work with the soul and the human, the human being and consciousness. This is literally like the tip of the spirit of physics. They're learning the way that our minds and our consciousness direct particles of matter. And once you really learn that, and once you really like accept that, it's really empowering. It's made me want to make movies and themes, narratives, art projects that really explain this to people through different ways.”
While the conversation does regularly return to both Angels & Airwaves, and To the Stars, talk of aliens and other extra-terrestrial phenomena are never far from the table. But then, why should they be? This is a subject DeLonge has spent much of his adult life researching, the last seven years especially.
“I want people to look at To The Stars and as an extension of what we started Angels & Airwaves for, a way to see yourself differently, see the world differently. Positive and amazing. We talk about love, but love is just another word to describe two things coming together. It doesn't have to be like a romantic comedy type of love. You know?”
“Some people call it God, some people call it source. It's still this energy that permeates everything. And that’s what we're all connected to. And my goal here, honestly, is how do we teach people what we're really discovering? Like energy healing they're doing in the laboratory, PHD level Ivy league universities were using consciousness as curing and eradicating cancer.”
“And they're finding that if you do it with positive intention, it's like seven times stronger than if you do it with negative intention, which works too. It's kind of funny, it really is this idea that you can tune into the dark side or the light side of the force.”
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This isn’t the first time the force came up in our conversation, but rather than sound like bullshit from an over-zealous sci-fi fan, it’s the perfect analogy to describe just what DeLonge is referring to. And while it may surprise some people to learn that his interest, and indeed intelligence, goes far deeper than that of little green men coming to earth, it won’t surprise anyone to learn that UFO’s enter the equation, as well.
“Everyone thinks it's about aliens coming from a planet, but that's not really what the evidence says. If you dig into this stuff, you start learning about consciousness, physics, quantum mechanics, religion and ancient texts, archaeology and national security.” But what does DeLonge say the evidence suggests then, if that isn’t the case? “The evidence seems to suggest that these things are materializing into our frequency from a parallel dimension, that has an opposite physics and opposite timeline. Like the universe has a duality, like the dark side of the force and the light side of the force.”
“When there's a particle born, there's always going to be a counterpart to it. If there's like an electron, there's going to be a proton. There's a negative. And there's the positive. There's a balance that has to happen. It needs to be a balanced, it needs to be a balance, and it’s all existing parallel to us. The other thing is time is parallel. It's not linear, so there's no like, ‘Hey, we start here, and we move forward through time’. It's not that, it's past, present, future everything's happening laterally, like at the exact same moment.”
So far, it all makes sense, but it almost sounds like DeLonge is saying that science is finally catching up with religion, and not in the fact the other way around, as most of us would assume. Is that the case?
“Yeah, and I would challenge that statement to be science is merging with religion, because we take anything metaphysical, anything paranormal, and say, it's all religious. You can't measure it. No one knows what it is. It might not even be real, it's not [yet] the truth.”
“We're just now learning how to measure this kind of thing. And once we get those measurements down, it will become a part of our science. That's how we'll have something like unified field theory. Einstein was like, ‘Okay, let's do general relativity and let's try to figure out gravity and let's try to figure out string theory and quantum mechanics’, everyone's trying to figure out parts of it all and how they all fit.”
“I don't think that we're going to figure out how everything fits until we plug in what consciousness is. And then that's going to describe what time is and parallel realities and multi-verse and frequencies and all this weird shit. And then we're going to say, holy cow, here's the missing glue.”
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If this sounds deep, it’s because it is. If it’s confusing, it’s because it really is. But DeLonge talks with both confidence and conviction, never coming across as preachy or condescending, he makes a lot of sense, (at least as much as is possible to someone with nothing more than a media degree). So with such an almost overwhelming amount of material, both artistic and scientific, for people to explore, where’s the best place for them to start?
“I'm always just going to say that any of these pieces we're doing are meant to be an entry point into the larger conversation so people can get a record and go, ‘wow, I really liked these songs’. It's that simple. Then you start to dig deeper. I think it's using any of these things that I'm doing as an entry point into the world that I'm trying to create over here would work.”
“I don't think there's one thing that would be the right fit for anybody. We did an animated short film called Poet Anderson, and we got a lot of people interested in us because they love animation. Then that gets them into the kind of the deeper discussions of, dreams, nightmares, consciousness, and parallel worlds. I think, no matter which entry point you use you'll end up coming back to my weird mind, you know?”
While DeLonge might refer to his “weird” mind, it’s doubtful many more in music would be able to do what he has, be that arranging a complex narrative web that bleeds across mediums, and indeed fanbases, or his governmental work, which many might say goes hugely against his punk rock roots.
Whichever side of the fence you stand on however, it’s impossible to say that in the last seven years, DeLonge hasn’t forged his own path, and that’s pretty fucking punk rock. But just how important was it for Tom DeLonge to start discussing topics that were a far cry from singing songs about incest and bestiality, and start shedding light on subjects like the aforementioned racism and gun violence, but also those subjects many of us know nothing about?
“To talk about those [particular] things at this point in time was very specific to the past couple of years in this country. Normally, those are things I think about, but they're not emotionally what hits me when I'm making music, when I'm creating a song.”
“I just go, what do I feel in the moment when I hear this? And I stick with that. I don't ever think about racism and gun violence, but then all of a sudden when that shit becomes front and centre, I'm pissed. All these fucking idiots running around that have no clue what's happening. With humanity, what we're all about, and what's been here for a long time influencing us. I'm looking up with a much higher view.
“We just got it all wrong. It's like we got life wrong. We think it's all about our job, our car, going to a bar. It's all about money and career and it's the wrong shit.”
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While gentle in his demeanour, DeLonge is steadfast in his opinions, it’s easy to imagine him facing backlash for views. Especially from fans of Blink-182, early Angels & Airwaves or even wider government and media. Was this the case?
“Oh, yeah. All of the above, but that's part of being a punker, you do what you want, you know? It's like if you have conviction about something and you stop, or you're like worried about what people think, and it's going against your heart, then you're worthless.”
“You gotta be brave. You gotta stand up for your convictions and you can't steer yourself off the highway because there's some dude, Kevin that doesn't like what you're doing. And he works at some magazine, so he made fun of you and you go ‘shit, I better not make movies and work with the government because this guy doesn't like what I'm doing’, it's just like, what the fuck?”
Therein lies the crux of Tom DeLonge, or at least to the point one can establish in single phone call. On the one hand, he’s hugely empathetic, thoughtful, and tapped into an understanding of something much bigger than himself, than us even. On the other, he’s stubborn, steadfast, and sarcastic, harbouring glimmers of the DeLonge that provided the soundtrack to the youth of millions. And while many may balk at the post-Blink DeLonge, the fact remains times change. As do people. As does circumstance.
And while there are those that think him crazy for “quitting his band and chasing aliens”, there’s nothing more punk rock than doing what the fuck you want, irrespective of what people think about it, and that is exactly what Tom DeLonge is doing right now. If that’s not staying true to your roots, I don’t know what is.
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'LIFEFORMS' is out now.
Words: Dave Beech
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